“A man who doesn’t trust himself can never really trust anyone else” Cardinal De Retz
My desire and ability to trust someone seemed unattainable for many years. When I first got into recovery I didn’t trust a soul, including myself, with the possible exceptions being my two young children.
The two people I had been able to place my complete trust in to never let me down, my parents, had died a few years after a divorce ridden with betrayal, and I felt very alone. Like most other adults who were over 30, I had been hurt by a few of the people I’d chosen to put my trust in. In hindsight, it was foolish to think I could depend on some of high-risk people I had chosen. It also became crystal clear that I was guilty of hurting others that had placed their trust in me.
My past hurts taught me not to trust anyone over the age of 10—and myself. It didn’t make practical sense to rely upon another human being who, like me, is full of inconsistencies and has the capacity if not the natural inclination to change his or her mind at the drop of a hat. My experiences taught me that just because someone is committed to a relationship at the moment, is no guarantee they will feel the same way in another moment. I drew the unfortunate conclusion that to place my trust in another and their promises is naive, impractical and potentially heartbreaking. I had developed into a very cynical person in the first years after I got sober.
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” Frank Crane.
Today I am able to see that I was basing the potential thoughts and actions of another in large part of my own potential to go back on my word. I knew that I was capable of disappointing others, so why would anyone else be any different?
At some level I always treated relationships as temporary and dispensable—if not fleeting—and that made it impossible to trust that another might feel differently than I. In addition, I had been hurt just enough to prove my point even though I easily dismissed a few others I knew along the way who to a greater or lesser degree had proven to be trustworthy.
For a long time I kept a tight grip on my belief that only a fool would trust another any farther than they could throw them and to believe otherwise would ultimately prove to be disappointing and painful. I concluded that it was wise to keep my distance, especially in romantic relationships. My experiences had taught me that members of the opposite sex can not be trusted so it is much smarter to never get involved in the first place and allow myself to fall into a position of vulnerability.
My dreary rationale continued to make sense for several years. But one problem I began to notice was the large amount of time I was spending by myself, and soon my neutral feelings of aloneness turned into lonesomeness. Even so, I remained attached to my theory that it made more sense to feel lonesome once in awhile, than develop a serious, committed relationship with someone and risk being broad-sided down the road when the other person strays or decides to disengage.
It seems there may be some truth to the notion that we tend to gravitate to those who are on a comparable emotional plane as ourselves at any given time.
While on my path of solitude I stumbled upon someone who seemed willing to do a dance with me that involved some movement in the direction of commitment, but not so much that it got close enough to be threatening; not close enough where the question of trust became too big and too scary.
We did that dance off and on for a few years until I felt I was going around in circles with a one step forward two steps back number that became mundane and routine on a dance floor that became too small and had no room to expand. If we wanted to grow we’d have to start thinking about deeper trust. The dance ended temporarily.
Today I find myself with the same person but on an expanded dance floor. I gradually began craving something more meaningful and that would not be possible unless I was willing to place more trust in not only the other person, but in myself.
My ability to trust today is on a greater scale than it was previously. I can trust that we will both do our best to make it last because that’s what we have chosen to do. I have decided to place my trust in someone else with my heart.
There is always a chance I will get hurt by another’s actions. But I still choose to trust because I think that the other person is trustworthy. Yes, there’s still a chance I will get hurt. But today I have decided I am willing to take that chance because there are no guarantees in my life, not in love, work, health or any other area.
I have learned that while I was busy protecting my heart I was always missing out on a big piece of what my life had to offer. Even if I were to get hurt, I have a deeper trust that I will always be okay and my life will go on and I will grow even more because I trust myself. And how can you trust another if you don’t trust yourself?
As time has gone on I’ve slowly begun to separate my expectations in others from my trust in them. I think it’s often been my specific expectations of another that has gotten me into trouble and led me to get hurt more than my wish to trust. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that while it’s smart to be cautious of who you trust, learning to trust is a vital component of a life full lived.
Karen Gaskell is a freelance writer in Minneapolis, Minn.